U.S. State Department Releases 2010 Human Trafficking Report
The U.S. State Department released its 2010 Annual Report on Human Trafficking today. Haiti remains a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. The most significant trafficking issue concerns restaveks – forced domestic servitude of young children given to (mostly) urban families by parents (mostly) from rural areas with larger families. An estimated 225,000 children were enslaved as restaveks prior to the 2010 earthquake. Even more children are vulnerable to exploitation in the earthquake’s aftermath. Below is the Haiti section of the report, which includes recommendations for the Haitian government and the international community.
In the months prior to the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Government of Haiti had made limited antitrafficking progress; prospects for additional, future progress were greatly impeded by the earthquake, which killed over 230,000 people, displaced 1.3 million people, including at least half a million children, and destroyed much of Port au Prince, including much of the government’s infrastructure. The limited capacity of Haitian state institutions to respond to human trafficking was further weakened by the earthquake’s monumental damage. Haiti remains a Special Case for the fifth consecutive year as the earthquake derailed government efforts to address the significant challenges facing the country, including human trafficking.
The Government of Haiti, in partnership with NGOs, identified child trafficking victims, but it did not enact much-needed anti-trafficking legislation. The following background and recommendations are provided to guide government officials and organizations working on anti-trafficking initiatives in Haiti.
Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. The majority of trafficking cases are found among the estimated 225,000 restaveks —the term for the practice of child slavery in domestic settings—in Haiti and the approximately 3,000 additional Haitian restaveks living in Dominican Republic. The majority of children become restaveks when they move to cities to live with extended families in the hopes of going to school. Restaveks are treated differently from other non-biological children living in households; in addition to involuntary servitude, restaveks are particularly vulnerable to beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses by family members in the homes in which they are residing. Restaveks are often dismissed when they become teenagers. Dismissed and runaway restaveks make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children, who frequently are forced to work in prostitution or street crime by violent criminal gangs.
Since the earthquake, local shelters have received a record number of restaveks. Many are also living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The Haitian National Police and local NGOs reported an increase in alleged cases of forced labor and forced prostitution of children and adults since the earthquake. Women and girls are increasingly vulnerable to the IDP’s self-appointed “security guardians,” who exploit them in exchange for “protection.”
The UN has reported on forced prostitution of Dominican women in brothels in Haiti frequented by MINUSTAH Peacekeepers. Some of the Haitians who voluntarily migrate to The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, other Caribbean nations, South America, and the United States subsequently face conditions of forced labor.
In a positive step, Haitian officials recognize that human trafficking, including the nonconsensual exploitation of restavek children, is a serious problem in the country; however, the lack of legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking is a major obstacle to progress. The national police child protection unit, the Brigade for the Protection of Minors, does not pursue forced labor or forced prostitution cases because there is no statutory penalty. There may also be confusion among elements of the Haitian government and some of its international donors between the crimes of human smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal adoption. Legislation criminalizing all forms of human trafficking has been pending in Parliament for several years.
The government lacked formal victim identification and assistance policies and resources but the government’s social welfare agency worked well with NGOs to identify and refer victims. Prior to the earthquake, the Ministry of Social Affairs in partnership with an international NGO identified 126 restaveks; after the earthquake NGOs have identified 816 restaveks in 25 major IDP camps in Port-au-Prince. In addition, border officials took commendable steps to identify and assist potential child trafficking victims in the aftermath of the earthquake. Shelter services for adult trafficking victims do not exist.
Prevention efforts have been largely NGO driven. There have been reports that after the earthquake, some members of the international aid community have disregarded Haitian government input on strategies to assist trafficking victims and prevent trafficking. For example, influential members of the international aid community are promoting family-based foster care for unaccompanied minors despite Haitian government concerns that this foster care could lead to more children in situations of forced labor – similar to restaveks – because the government lacks the capacity to adequately monitor placements. A divergent definition of trafficking in persons within the NGO community further hindered coordinated anti-trafficking strategies. There have been reports of duplication of anti-trafficking efforts by international organizations unaware of local mechanisms already in place.
Recommendations for Haiti:
1) Enact legislation criminalizing forced prostitution and all forms of forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude, with penalties that reflect the heinous nature of this human rights abuse;
2) In partnership with NGOs, adopt and employ formal procedures to guide officials in proactive victim identification and referral of victims to available services;
3) Provide in-kind support for victim services;
4) Improve access to quality education for all children
Recommendations for the international aid community:
1) Increase coordination with the government of Haiti and Haitian NGOs on anti-trafficking responses; promote a definition of trafficking, which includes forced child labor such as that experienced systematically by restaveks;
2) Incorporate restavek prevention and protection in reliefa nd broader development efforts, including education initiatives for all children and sensitization for parents regarding the reality of restavek life;
3) Build the capacity of Haitian institutions responsible for child protection.